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THE SAGA OF THE BALANCHIVADZES


LA VITA COME ARTE

THE SAGA OF THE

BALANCHIVADZE

David Bukhrikidze

O

Georg e BalanchineFrom archives of Tbilisi Z. Palishvili Opera and Ballet State Theater.

ne Georgian writer says that great men are lost without a monument; we’d like to add that so are the great people of art and Nicko Pirosmani could represent a good example of that. Nevertheless, in a century of total information, personal code and a vast number of web-sites, the number of those “lost without a monument” is significantly reduced. The existence of the ‘white spots’ in the past was determined by the fact that the epoch, pressed by the no information era, destined an artist for oblivion. But only for a while...

Among the three children of the composer Meliton Balanchivadze –Tamar, Giorgi and Andria, Giorgi or George Balanchivadze is the most remarkable. The famous choreographer moved to Europe from St Petersburg school of Choreography together with Diagilev’s troupe in the

In the twentieth century the family of Balanchiveadzes, blessed with artistic talent are a clear example of interchanging success, oblivion and glory. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Anton Balanchivadze, born in the village Banoja, the parson of the Church of Peter and Paul, could never have imagined that he would have started the great family, which gave a number of talented artists to his motherland and made his name famous.

Meliton’s younger son Andria is one of the most talented performers of contemporary Georgian music: He was the composer of the first Georgian ballet “The Heart of the Mountains”, which was staged in the 1930s. He taught a whole generation of Georgian composers and his works were very successful all across the Soviet Union.

Both of Anton’s sons, Meliton and Vaso, earned a noble place in the history of art: Meliton Balanchivadze is the founder of Georgian professional music together with Zakharia Paliashvili and Dimitri Arakishvili while Vasili was a remarkable representative of the Georgian theatrical culture. Both of the brothers were awarded the title of ‘Georgia’s Peoples’ Artist’ in Stalin’s time, though they were never proud of this fact, neither were they friendly with the party elite.

1920s. Later, he went to the USA, where he carried out his experiments in ballet. They were eventually qualified as masterpieces, therefore he is justly considered the founder of American choreography. He was the greatest reformer of the twentieth century Neoclassical Ballet.

The elder sister of Giorgi and Andria, Tamar Balanchivadze was undoubtedly artistically gifted and was a talented and original painter. Sadly, she unexpectedly passed away during the Second World War. Andria Balanchivadze’s children were also people of art: a dancer in the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet soloist Tsiskar Balanchivadze and the talented musician Jarji Balanchivadze. We shall now regale the saga of the Balanchivadzes in more detail.

January-February

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LA VITA COME ARTE

Meliton Balanchivadze Meliton Balanchivadze, the founder of Georgian opera, composer and public figure became known to Georgian music lovers as early as the nineteenth century, when the young baritone successfully performed several arias on the stage of the Tbilisi Opera Theatre. Later he formed an ethnographic choir and toured in different towns of Georgia. In the 1890s, he moved to St Petersburg, where he took classes in vocal art. Thereafter, he took up composition classes from the great Russian composer Nikolay Rimski-Korsakov. At the same time he formed a choir of esteemed musicians and arranged concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg, propagating Georgian folk music. The Georgian composer’s family was poor and the

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Meliton Balanchivadze From family archive

rector of the conservatoire and the famous composer Anton Rubinstein presented him with a grand piano, which Meliton brought to Georgia when he returned to his motherland. In 1912 in Russia, the fragments from his first opera “The Cunning Tamar” were performed. In spite of his intense concert activity, he still longed to return to his motherland. After the revolution he returned to Georgia and started actively working. In 1926, the premiere of his opera “The Cunning Tamar” was performed in Tbilisi for the first time. It marked a great event in the history of Georgian music. In summary, besides his wonderful musical and pedagogical work, he left behind a marvelous heritage for Georgian arts.


LA VITA COME ARTE

Andria Balanchivadze Andria Balanchivadze was born in St Petersburg. It was clear that his father and the musical circle influenced his childhood as his talent in musical composition came to the fore at an early age. His path was chosen from the very beginning. In the 1930s he wrote music for the first Georgian ballet “The Heart of the Mountains”, which was a significant event: the choreographer was Vakhtang Chabukiani, the painter- Soliko Virsaladze, and the conductor Evgeni Mikeladze. He composed a lot of music pieces for films, worked in the theater and was the favorite composer of Kote Marjanishvili.

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Andria Balanchivadze From family archive

Many famous people used to gather in Andria Balanchvadze’s house. At that time, probably all the famous people of the art world witnessed the unusual duet of the famous Georgian poet Galaktion Tabidze and Andria Balanchvadze: with great dramatic inspiration Galaktion recited “Mary”, accompanied by Massenet’s “Elegy”. This dynamic performance went round the whole of Georgia and was a great success. Andria used to say that Galaktion’s vibrant voice always put him in the right mood. Andrea’s wife Pinna was a no less interesting person, who did much to develop their children’s talent, especially Jarji’s.


LA VITA COME ARTE

Giorgi (George) Balanchivadze In 1918, Meliton Balanchvadze and his family were summoned to Georgia, as he was supposed to restore a music school in Kutaisi. At first, the family stayed in St Petersburg, though due to neediness they all had to leave except their elder son Giorgi, 13 at that time, who studied in the ballet school of St Petersburg. If Giorgi had been made to return to Georgia he would have had to give up studying. Therefore, being fanatically in love with ballet, George preferred to stay. This choice proved to be painful, as Andria and George parted in the spring of 1918 and only 44 years later were they able to meet again. “It took us almost a month and a half to come here. Then we sneaked up on board the ship in Sebastopol and could hardly reach Poti and then Tbilisi from there.” – writes Andria Balanchivadze in his memoirs. While Meliton’s family was busy with music and other things in Kutaisi, the political situation in St Petersburg became very complicated. In 1923, Giorgi went on a tour of Europe together with the ballet company. He fell ill with tuberculoses and had to leave for Switzerland to receive treatment. He was unable to return to Russia on time and soon he received a letter, informing him about the civil war. So he decided to stay in France.

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Georg e BalanchineFrom archives of Tbilisi Z. Palishvili Opera and Ballet State Theater.

At first he found it hard to get used to his life in emigration. Two years later, an American producer saw him on stage and invited him to New York. From this period on, Giorgi Balanchivadze’s, or rather, George Balanchine’s road to glory started. (Diagilev, a clever and well-educated man in matters of art, advised him to take up this name, as it was shorter and sounded more European). Initially, he worked in small theaters and earned a modest pay. After gaining good experience he realized that it was necessary to find wealthy producers and sponsors to fulfill his ambitions. One of his acquaintances presented him to Rockefeller, who allotted a big sum to him and thereafter he enjoyed wonderful working conditions. In the 1930-40s, George founded his own Ballet studio, where he created his famous abstract choreographic opuses. George Balanchine’s fame and glory are connected with the merging of choreographic polyphony and generalized concept with the geometric forms, very unusual at that time. It might have been an in-depth response to Georgian polyphonic music and folk dance forms. This is a widely held theory, critics and experts share this idea, all those ones, who have seen Balanchine’s Ballet and Georgian folk dances.


LA VITA COME ARTE

A Long Time Later In May of 1962, Andria and Giorgi Balanchivadzes met in Moscow Airport 44 years since their previous meeting. It could have served as an example of abolishing the ideological barrier, as Khrushchov’s “Ottepel” (“Melting”) was gaining strength. Balanchine’s career as a dancer failed due to physical problems with his leg but he became a great choreographer. As for Andria, he was already a widely revered composer. Everybody realized that it was a very special meeting after a long time apart, in the alienated space, in Moscow airport. This meeting could have become the main subject of any epic novel, best-seller or Hollywood film, though in the Soviet Union it was still forbidden due to Balanchine’s work and his fame. This meeting has been preserved only on the shabby pages of American and European magazines. It is a pity that in Georgia not a single writer had the desire to describe the saga of the Balanchivadzes in the dramatic context of our country’s recent history. In his public interviews Balanchine spoke about his ballet and those innumerable women, who often left him in a strange manner: “I am madly in love with women, but they were constantly jealous and left me for this reason. Nevertheless I always tried to make their lives beautiful. The women used to become much more beautiful in my hands!” He arrived in Georgia for the second time 10 years later. He visited his native Kutaisi and his father’s grave. Delighted by Georgian dance and music, he decided to stage a ballet based on his brother’s music, but the choreographer’s great dream did not come true. George Balanchin died in New York in 1983. According to his will all his property was given to the ballerinas of his own company. As for the ballet company, it bears George Balanchine’s name. Balanchine was truly international - A Georgian by birth, a native of St Petersburg in education and an American in his work and life

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Photo by Lado Vachnadze

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